DuBOIS, Pa. — Since its creation in 2019, the North Central Pennsylvania (NCPA) LaunchBox powered by Penn State DuBois has continued to work towards its mission of being the hub that connects local entrepreneurs to the support, resources and facilities they need to build a sustainable and scalable business. Over the past year, the LaunchBox and its Idea Lab, which offers students, faculty, staff and the community the opportunity to utilize 3D printers, virtual and augmented reality, commercial vinyl printing and more, have seen many changes and have been part of numerous events to help educate the community that they serve.
The NCPA LaunchBox focuses on supporting manufacturing competitiveness and workforce needs, growing and attracting talented entrepreneurs and innovators and creating new high-knowledge, high-technology businesses for the region. Penn State DuBois serves as the convener to facilitate partnerships with and between businesses, education, industry and economic and community development stakeholder to form a functional ecosystem for providing facilities and programming for industrial research and development, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) educational and professional programming, business and community development for regional industries.
This year we have seen a profound impact, both on the educational side and with the industries that utilize the services the LaunchBox offers.
—Jungwoo Ryoo , chancellor and chief academic officer at Penn State DuBois
“The LaunchBox and Idea Lab are a great asset to our campus and our community,” Jungwoo Ryoo, chancellor and chief academic officer, said. “This year we have seen a profound impact, both on the educational side and with the industries that utilize the services the LaunchBox offers. Also, we are looking ahead to more great things in the future with our LaunchBox 2.0 vision focusing on concepts such as automation and connected workers, also known as Industry 4.0. I am thrilled that our NCPA LaunchBox is at the forefront of bringing these newly emerging technologies to us all!””
The LaunchBox also offers:
- Boot Camp/Accelerator
- Business Consultant Services
- Community Education Programs
- Event Space
- Mentorship Programs
- Microgrant Programs
- Product Development
- Speaker Series
- University Classrooms
One of the most notable events of the year took place in November with the relocation and expansion of the Idea Lab. With the move to the current location in the DEF building, on the Penn State DuBois campus, the Idea Lab saw a sizeable expansion in usable space, an increase in equipment that is available for use and a larger ability to serve the campus and the community. The new lab location also allows for a much easier user experience for both the augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) equipment that the lab offers.
Towards the end of the academic year, the LaunchBox welcomed Johnny Williams to the staff full time as an engineering technologist. Williams joined the LaunchBox after working in several positions within Clearfield Municipal Authority, including nearly seven years as the manager. He is no stranger to the LaunchBox, having worked part time since 2020, designing and teaching rapid prototyping, installing new equipment in the Idea Lab and educating others on the proper usage and functionality of the equipment, and has assisted many of the region’s entrepreneurs and businesses with their development plans. Williams holds a bachelor of science degree in computer engineering from the Rochester Institute of Technology. He now serves as the primary contact for the Idea Lab.
The fulfillment I experience by helping these individuals is what helped drive me to join the team here and what I hope to help grow further into the surrounding area.
—Johnny Williams , engineering technologist for the North Central PA LaunchBox powered by Penn State DuBois
“In my previous role helping with the Idea Lab, I saw a great opportunity to be able to expand the offerings that we presented to the students, faculty, staff and surrounding communities,” Williams said. “We were working on many projects, but these were slow-moving and they needed to be prioritized due to the limited time. Now, we can work with many more individuals at a faster pace to help promote new ideas and make visions a reality. The fulfillment I experience by helping these individuals is what helped drive me to join the team here and what I hope to help grow further into the surrounding area.”
During the 2022-23 academic year, the LaunchBox brought back many of its outreach activities that had to be put on hold during the pandemic. This included classroom visits to schools in the community to offer area youth the opportunity to learn about entrepreneurship, developing a business plan, and what interest areas they have that they might explore in the future.
Penn State DuBois and the LaunchBox also collaborated to host students from DuBois Area Middle School for STEAM Day. After receiving an introduction to Penn State DuBois and the North Central PA LaunchBox, students were divided into three groups and rotated through different activities.
Each group got the chance to visit the Idea Lab and fully experience VR, with each student having the opportunity to use a headset and controls to go on a special trip through the clouds, play games and take part in other experiences, like riding a roller coaster. After a break for a campus tour, students divided themselves up into teams to compete in a distance race for vehicles that they would build. Each group had the opportunity to pick from different sized and shaped plastic bottles to use as the body, and wheels that were all made in the Idea Lab but made from different materials and contained different designs. Students were tasked with using their engineering skills to make a vehicle that would travel the furthest distance using only air power from a balloon. Once each group was complete with their design, everyone headed to the PAW Center and the gym floor to race their vehicles. Each group was given two chances to send their cars as far down the gym floor as they could, using only air power. Students and teachers discussed why certain vehicles traveled a longer distance than others, and the groups finishing in the top three places each received 3D-printed trophies from the Idea Lab.
I believe that LaunchBox had a deeper impact in the community than we have ever seen before.
—Brad Lashinsky , program director for the North Central PA LaunchBox powered by Penn State DuBois
“Overall, coming out of the restrictions we saw during the pandemic, I believe that LaunchBox had a deeper impact in the community than we have ever seen before,” Lashinsky said. “Being able to return to the community and return to classrooms in our area schools allows us to expand our reach within both the community and educational systems in our area. Reaching out to the young people in our community helps us create the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.”
These highlights are just some of the many achievements of the LaunchBox during the academic year. In a future article more information will be shared on the LaunchBox’s plans as the campus works towards its LaunchBox 2.0 initiative and its industry 4.0 mission, both of which are already in progress.
Since 2015, the Invent Penn State initiative has awarded seed grants to 21 campuses to create LaunchBoxes and innovation spaces, and to date, the NCPA LaunchBox has served over 14,700 clients, including 42 new start-ups. This mission is continuously driven through collaboration with area industry and communities.
Lashinsky and Williams are available to assist businesses and individuals in finding ways to meet their unique needs. Lashinsky can be reached at 814-375-4704 or [email protected]. Williams can be reached at 814-372-3020 or at [email protected]. Visit the NCPA Launchbox website here.